Facebook Playing With My Mind

Took a look at the homepage for my Facebook account and I notice something new, below the birthday announcements. Some profile summaries with a mention that I might know these people. Nothing really awkward there, probably just a new feature. Although, Facebook has this strange (and potentially annoying) habit of changing features without warning us.

But still not mindblowing, or even mindplaying.

There’s a “Show All” button in that box and, when I click on it, I get to a Friend Finder page where I see a series of profile summaries with the heading: “People You May Know. Found based on your existing connections. Do you know any of these people? Add people you know as friends to make these results even better for you.”

Next to each profile summary:

You both know: [links to mutual friends]
Add To Friends|(View Friends)|Message

Again, nothing really weird. (Without warning,) Facebook browsed my connections and found some mutual friends. Some applications do things like these.

But, here’s where things get a bit less obvious: the first time I look at this page, I see a list of people I don’t recognize with mentions of some of my contacts (friends and acquaintances). Overall, these contacts are people I had assumed were unconnected. Granted, they all live or have lived in Montreal (my hometown). And some of them are somehow involved in music. But even the musicians among them are working in quite separate music scenes within Montreal’s music landscape.

According to this list, Richard (one of my contacts) has eleven connections in common with twelve of my friends and acquaintances. These twelve friends and acquaintances of mine presumably have little in common with the people that both Richard and I know. None of these twelve contacts of mine are connected directly to Richard on Facebook. They all know some of Richard’s contacts but my connections to them are very diverse: former students, former bandmates, a childhood friend, a fellow brewclub member, etc. I’ve met these people at very different stages of my life and I just couldn’t assume any of them would know one another. Again, all of these people have some connection to Montreal but given Montreal’s population, I find it quite surprising that my network would cluster so much across contact types.

I felt compelled to send a couple of messages about this. To Richard (this acquaintance of mine who seemed to have many mutual acquaintances with people I know). And to two of the people who were listed as possible acquaintances of mine (one of whom I probably did meet, a number of years ago).

Fascinating stuff for a social scientist like me.

But where it gets mindplaying is when, coming back to the Friend Finder page, the list of possible acquaintances is radically different from what it was the first time. This time, most of the people in the list belong to YulBlog, Montreal’s blogging community. That community has a relatively high clustering coefficient so I basically assumed that many of those YulBloggers are friends with some of my blogging friends. I did meet with several of these bloggers at blog meetings but I prefer letting them judge whether or not we should be linked through Facebook. So, this new Friend Finder page looks pretty normal, Which makes the first Friend Finder page seem more unusual. Playing with my mind.

It’s possible that the first Friend Finder page was a glitch. Facebook has been known to have some bugs recently, as they implement (some would say “impose”) changes in the way they handle things like privacy and contact lists. But, looking at Richard’s contact list, it does seem that these people really are all connected, albeit indirectly.

Lest you should mistake my enthusiasm for flabbergastment, I must say that while I find these connections surprising, I still understand that they’re fairly easy to explain. The effect, though, is one of puzzlement at the extent of the Small World Effect. I feel as though my world were much tinier and much more clustered than I had ever assumed. Especially the Montreal portion of my social world. And I thought my friends were diverse…😉

Yes, I know. I should just draw the network chart and let people reach their own conclusions.

Ah, well…

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

4 responses to “Facebook Playing With My Mind

  • enkerli

    @ATWyatt Not magical in implementation but quite surprising in effect, especially with my personal network. And given the fact that “show all” doesn’t, in fact, show all such possible connections.
    But, you’re probably right. The algorithm determining which connections are presented at which point probably is a closely guarded secret. Sad.

  • A. T. Wyatt

    Well, I think we just need to know the algorithm. There is nothing magic about it! Of course that will be a closely guarded programming secret. . . maybe with a randomizer or two thrown in for obfuscation!

  • enkerli

    @RS Not that I remember. I did play with a few other apps meant to show connections in some type of graph but not Nexus. I’ll try it.

  • RS

    Have you played around with the “Nexus” app?

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